By Rosa Martinez
HAVANA TIMES – It’s 4:20 p.m., Monday March 17th. I leave my new job and head towards Guantanamo city center; I need to buy some basic items before I go home.
I count how much money I have in my purse, so I know what I’ll be able to buy or not. I have a list of the most important things I need, so I don’t forget anything important, like I have so many other times.
While my mind is busy thinking about detergent, hand soap, cooking oil, a mophead and maybe, just maybe, a pack of coffee, the conversation of the people waiting for some form of transport, just like I am, brings me back to the real world.
The thing is, in Cuba, people are only talking about this, I imagine it’s the same everywhere else in the world, as the problem has reached every corner of the planet.
People try to live their normal lives – and many do – or at least it seems. Here, everybody still goes about their daily business, whether that’s work or school. And streets are busy like usual, busier even, as lines have grown, if that is even possible in the face of the many shortages we’ve experienced since the beginning of 2019.
However, the truth is that this Coronavirus is the main subject of conversation in every workplace, school, home or street corner and, of course, in lines or crowds of people, which are commonplace on our island. This open-air bus stop wasn’t an exception.
Cubans through and through, the conversation began energetically with two women who seemed to be friends, or at least work colleagues, as they were speaking like they knew each other really well. The main subject, this time, was whether the cruise ship carrying infected Britons should be allowed to dock in Cuba or not. [Editor’s note: it did dock on Wednesday]
Two young Medical students (I could tell by their uniform) joined these two friends’ conversation, as well as a couple I know as they live in front of my workplace, three old people and three young persons who seem to be well-informed about the subject.
The debate, which is never really a debate in Cuba, but rather a discussion – our Latin blood makes us speak loudly, gesticulate and believe that we are always right – became heated as the sun came down on the bus stop without a roof for us to take shelter, although the afternoon was slowly passing by.
The majority of the participants in that interesting controversy were in favor of the cruise ship landing on Cuban soil, of all the people coming off the ship and then being swiftly sent back to their countries, in spite of the risks this might imply for the island’s entire population.
The two elderly people said that just thinking that they might be relatives, friends or neighbors needing help, their hearts wouldn’t let them deny help to these people. According to them, it was a matter of humanity, they said that in spite of the terrible risks, they couldn’t deny assistance to those human beings, that the government needed to take great precautions and measures when transporting them to the airport.
The two friends also supported the government’s decision, and according to what they said, they had even made this clear on social media with messages of solidarity with the cruise ship’s crew.
However, the young people had very different opinions; as well as criticizing the Cuban stance on this cruise ship business, saying that other countries with better conditions didn’t accept to help it, they also criticized the government’s decision to continue to let tourists in, as they aren’t bearing in mind the great risk of infection they pose to the population, who will end up paying for the poor decisions being made by our leaders.
They explained that they were well aware of the importance of tourism for the declining national economy, but they argued that an outbreak of the deadly virus would be a lot worse than losses from partially closing the border. One of them said that they should at least stop travelers coming in from countries with a high number of cases such as Italy, France and Spain, for example.
When somebody asked me what I thought, and I decided to share my thesis, a bus came and everybody hurried off to get onboard. Everybody forgot about not only what I had to say, but about all the prevention measures that have been given to prevent COVID-19 infection, as they were throwing themselves on top of each other, touching the edges of seats and handrails over and over again, and on top of all that, a woman was constantly coughing on that jam-packed bus. Even though more than one person looked at her suspiciously, they had no choice but to stand next to that woman, as there wasn’t any other space they could move to.